- HENNING HOLCK-LARSEN, a young master of chemical engineering from the University of Copenhagen, came to India nearly 40 years ago to sell equipment for manufacturing cement.
- During World War II they operated a repair ship as the first emergency floating dock in Bombay harbor for repair and conversion of Allied merchant vessels as warships.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his signal contribution towards India’s technical modernization, complementing industrialization with human concern.”
Fundamental industrial development presents a difficult quandary about where to invest scarce resources and talent. Achievements in one sector compound the need for engineering skills and fabricating capacity in another. Orchestrating each stage of industrial advance to harmonize total productive capability with available markets requires exceptional organizational leadership.
The role of the foreign entrepreneur, participating in such accelerating industrialization, is rarely easy but can prove crucial for efficiency in accomplishing national goals. Especially is this so when the foreigner works alone, or in a small team, rather than as a representative of a large foreign firm or a multinational corporation.
HENNING HOLCK-LARSEN, a young master of chemical engineering from the University of Copenhagen, came to India nearly 40 years ago to sell equipment for manufacturing cement. In 1938 he and Soren Kristian Toubro established Larsen & Toubro with a clerk, a messenger and the motto: “In Service Lies Success.” During World War II they operated a repair ship as the first emergency floating dock in Bombay harbor for repair and conversion of Allied merchant vessels as warships. Foregoing making more immediately profitable consumer goods in favor of designing and fabricating capital equipment for vital industries, and using Indian personnel and capital, they made that country’s first indigenous dairy machinery. Manufacture of sophisticated switchgears firmly established their reputation. Uncompromising quality control, reliability, and excellent after-sales-service ensured the technical collaboration of world-famous engineering firms. Planning production ahead to mesh with India’s five-year plans, they have contributed much to import substitution.
Larsen & Toubro Limited now has annual sales of over US$100 million. Their industrial estate at Powai, outside Bombay, sprawls over 34 landscaped hectares; four subsidiary and four associated companies operate elsewhere. Nearly one-third of their more than 10,000 employees are engineers. The range and quality of their engineering accomplishments span the wide spectrum of industrialization in India and abroad; alloy steel pressure vessels and boiler feed water heaters for fertilizer plants, carbon steel columns for petroleum refineries, stainless steel spray drying plants for PVC resin manufacture, and the first nuclear reactor vessels for India’s nuclear program are but a few.
In a competitive world market orders have come from 28 countries: the U.K., Denmark, the U.S.S.R., Australia, eight Asian, nine Middle Eastern and seven African states. Local investors respond promptly to capital needs; today more than 25,000 Indians own 97 percent of Larsen & Toubro Limited. Committed to Indianization before this became government policy, the company today has only two foreign technicians who will leave this year plus Chairman HOLCK-LARSEN. However, neither favoritism, nepotism nor high connection influence employment, which is strictly on merit. Insistence on professionalism of management and engineering, recognition of competence, and tireless experimentation with new ideas by a 200-member research and development staff have made the firm a technology leader. Further enhancing morale among an exceptional employee corps is HOLCK- LARSIN’S stress on the essential link between personal and organizational growth. Continuing training is given to engineers, managers, workers, apprentices and even vendors and subcontractors at the firm—in India and abroad. Constructive suggestions are rewarded. Employee benefits range from a consumers’ cooperative store and credit cooperative to medical care, educational opportunities, nutrition, family planning, sports and yoga classes.
Over it all presides the modest, carefully-spoken, gifted Dane who has shown how Westem technology can contribute to the betterment of life in the East.
In electing HENNING HOLCK-LARSEN to receive the 1976 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his signal contribution towards India’s technical modernization, complementing industrialization with human concern.
I do not have words to express my feelings, my gratitude, for the great honor done to me. It is an honor, not only to my adopted country, India, where thousands of my Indian co-workers, colleagues and friends have supported me in my endeavors over the last 40 years, but to thc far away land of my birth. I believe I am the first citizen of Denmark to have received this prestigious Award. On their behalf I accept this honor in ale humility.
Denmark is a country well known for its interest in promoting international understanding. However, I have lived the major part of my life in India where the Indian government has been, and is, making a continuous and conscious effort to promote understanding and establish cordial relations with all other nations of the world. My strong involvement in that country has given me the opportunity of closely associating with thousands of Indians in all possible walks of life and, fortunately, of gaining their friendship and close understanding.
The success that came my way in helping to foster the advancement of industrial development in that great country can be attributed to a good deal of luck but mainly to my fortune in working with a competent and devoted team. The Larsen & Toubro Group now has a happy family of over 10,000 direct employees and more than 25,000 shareholders.
I, therefore, share this unique honor bestowed on me today with all those persons with whom I have had the privilege of working in India, as well as with the company’s collaborators, contacts and customers on all five continents.
The Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, though located in the distant Philippines, have created a competent and effective organization to keep a watchful and kindly eye, year after year, on happenings in all the countries of Asia. They have succeeded in impartially identifying individuals and groups each year and, assessing the contributions made, to reward them annually on the birth date of your illustrious late president, Ramon Magsaysay.
This generous gesture alone is, in my opinion, helping to create lasting understanding amongst all Asians and the peoples of other nations attached to Asia, thus bringing them closer to each other, and to the rest of the world. Indeed, it truly reflects the ideals and the spirit of your great departed leader, President Ramon Magsaysay.
In a few days, when my wife and I return to India, we will carry with us our admiration for the Foundation, the government and the people of the Philippines and, of course, the unforgettable impact of today’s function. We will cherish these memories and endeavor to live up to the great honor you have bestowed on me today.
HENNING HOLCK-LARSEN was born on July 4, 1907 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The only son of Louis Holger Christian Larsen, stationmaster of Copenhagen, and Ida Jorgensen, HENNING has one younger sister. As is often done in Denmark to acknowledge relationship, he was given a surname combining a family name from his mother’s side with his father’s family name. He attended Jesuit primary and secondary schools and in 1922 entered the Metropolitanskolen (high school) of Copenhagen from which he graduated in 1925. During his high school years he traveled with his parents to Sweden, Germany and Austria and vowed to see more of the world when he grew older. He feels his interest in foreign countries and his urge to travel may have been inculcated from his father who, in 1898, left the Danish Railways and joined a railway construction company in South Africa. When the Boer War started, he joined on the Boer side and won two medals for bravery until malaria forced him to return to Denmark, where he rejoined the Danish Railways.
Attracted to mathematics, physics and chemistry, HOLCK-LARSEN entered the University of Copenhagen where he took some liberal arts courses but did his major study in The Royal School of Polytechnics which was under the university. He completed his work for a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1930. Even before he took his final examinations he had been hired by the important engineering firm of F. L. Smidth & Co A/S of Copenhagen which was the world leader in cement technology—designing and supplying cement-making machinery and complete cement factories worldwide.
“I made it a condition of my employment that I would be sent out quickly,” HOLCK-LARSEN relates. Accordingly, he traveled extensively for F. L. Smidth during the 1930s, first as a cement chemist and later as a sales engineer. Business trips took him to Poland, Estonia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq. In December 1935 he was delegated to Bombay, India, on a special mission connected with a proposed merger of the Indian cement factories. That job being successfully concluded with the creation of Associated Cement Companies—still the major cement group in India—he was responsible for setting up F. L. Smidth’s Indian office. As a reward for assistance in achieving the merger F. L. Smidth was given an order for three new cement works. “The contract for 650,000 pounds sterling was so large for that time that no one from among the Associated Cement Companies dared to sign it,” HOLCK-LARSEN remembers, “except the chairman of Tata Industries.” The head of F. L. Smidth, who had come from Denmark, told HOLCK-LARSEN he had better accompany him for the signing, for “never in your life will you see such a big contract signed.” HOLCK-LARSEN tells this story with a hearty laugh, having since then himself signed much larger contracts for his own company.
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